Navigating the landlord-tenant relationship is tricky at the best of times- but squatters are in a league of their own. Squatters' rights are different from state to state, and it is essential for landowners to brush up on specifics in their area to properly and legally protect themselves.
If you are a property owner in Connecticut, use this extensive guide to squatters and their rights to help avoid eviction battles with trespassers- and manage any situation that does arise quickly and effectively.
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Now, let’s dive in.
Connecticut Squatters' Rights
Abandoned or vacant land and buildings are prime targets for squatters. In Connecticut, a squatter is someone who occupies another person's property without permission- whether they mean to or not.
It is not technically a crime- not at first, anyway. Squatters are protected by certain rights that can give them the legal right to remain- but simple actions from the property owner can put a stop to it all.
The main right squatters try to exercise is the right to adverse possession. It worries landlords and owners across Connecticut and the rest of the country- but it is not quite what people think.
Adverse Possession Claim
Adverse possession claims are moves squatters can make in attempting to gain legal ownership- but only under certain circumstances. There is a lot of confusion around this particular right- based on the idea that possession is nine-tenths of the law.
That is not quite true in this sense. Connecticut, like all US states, applies strict rules to those attempting adverse possession, and it doesn't happen quickly.
Squatters' rights regarding adverse possession claims in Connecticut are fairly standard and in line with most states. Part of that includes the five pillars: hostile possession, actual possession, exclusive possession, open possession, and continuous possession.
There are three definitions of hostile possession according to Connecticut law:
- The person is living there with or without the knowledge that it belongs to someone else- and they don't believe they have color of title. This is known as simple possession.
- Squatters are fully aware they do not have permission to be there. In this case, the hostile claim is made under the awareness of trespassing rule.
- In some cases, squatters have made a genuine good-faith mistake in occupying the property- either because they believe they have the right to be there or they didn't think it belonged to anyone.
Squatters cannot attempt to hide the fact they are living on a property. It has to be obvious to anyone who even lightly investigates that they are there. The point of making open and notorious possession a condition is to give owners every opportunity to realize squatters are present so they can take the necessary steps.
Sharing is not allowed. Only a single squatter or group of connected squatters (a family or couple, for example) can claim adverse possession. If they share with strangers, the owner, or any other type of tenant, their claim is rendered invalid.
Actual possession means the squatter is living on the property as if they owned it. That means maintaining a physical presence and making tangible efforts to improve the property- including landscaping, beautification, repairs and maintenance, and cleaning.
The continuous possession rules for squatters in Connecticut require 15 years of uninterrupted occupancy to gain legal possession. They cannot leave and come back- any break resets the occupancy clock to zero.
Unlike many states, Connecticut does not require the squatter to have paid property taxes at any point during their occupation. As long as they meet the timeframe conditions and follow all other rules, they have the right to claim adverse possession.
That said, paying taxes can help support the person's claim when they file.
The eviction rules for squatters in Connecticut are a bit different from other states- with several steps that other places do not include. Here is the correct legal process for having them removed.
Contest the Claim
If a squatter has already started their adverse possession claim, the landowner must notify them directly of their intent to interrupt it. They can do this by serving the squatter declaring the contest of actions. They must also register the claim contest with the town's land records within three months of serving the notice.
In Connecticut, this automatically ends the squatter's right to claim adverse possession- and stops any further attempt.
Serve a Notice to Quit
The notice of contest is not an eviction notice- you must send this separately. Landlords should issue a five-day notice to quit- along with an explanation of why they want them to leave. Squatters then have two days to appear in court to fight the eviction. Otherwise, a lawsuit to remove them can begin.
File an Eviction Motion
Next, you file a motion with a judge based on failure to plead. This then allows three days for the squatter to come forward to plead against the owner. If they do, a trial will be held to decide who is legally in the right. On the other hand- if they do not come forward to plead- the court can enter judgment against them.
If the judge sides with the landlord, they can request an order of execution- which is essentially the final eviction notice that requires them to leave. This is then given to the local sheriff- who can then take charge of the eviction.
Have the Sheriff Remove the Squatters
The final step is bringing the local sheriff- not the police- to remove the squatters. They must first attempt to notify them of the date and time the eviction will take place. If they don't go willingly, they can remove them by force.
It is important to remember that the sheriff is the only one who has the legal power to forcibly remove them, and they can only do it once the eviction motion is granted.
How to Avoid Your Property Falling Victim to Squatters
Of course, it is better to not end up having to deal with squatters and evictions if you can avoid it- and you can avoid it if you take the right preventative measures. Although there may be the odd instance that your best efforts do not work, the following actions can usually go a long way to protecting your property from trespassers and squatters.
Put Up No Trespassing Signs
The first thing every landlord should do with their vacant land or property is put up no trespassing signs. It makes it clear that permission will not be granted- and suggests someone is coming back. No trespassing signs can act as a first warning- and may be enough to turn people away.
Reinforce the Entry Points
Many squatters gain access easily through unlocked doors and windows or broken fences and gates. If they can't get in without damaging the property, they may feel less inclined to attempt entry.
You can also enhance security by installing cameras at all entry points and setting up an alarm system. That way, you can always have eyes on anyone trying to occupy your vacant property without permission.
Pay Property Taxes
Even though Connecticut adverse possession laws do not require the squatter to pay property taxes, it could help their case. If you pay property taxes promptly and on time, nobody else has the chance to do it instead. A squatter paying taxes has grounds to claim they have treated the property as if they were the owner- since they are doing what you should have done already.
Maintain the Property
Letting your property get run down and derelict is a good way to attract squatters. Remember, if they can show they are better owners and make improvements, it could help their claim. Don't let it fall into ruin- keep the fences intact and the entrances clean, and act quickly to arrange repairs.
If you abandon a property completely and someone else carries the mantle of maintaining it- and they do so for 15 years- you are at risk of losing it completely.
Visit the Property Regularly
Visit your vacant land or property as often as you can- and use the visits to maintain the property and keep it looking cared for. A run-down, messy appearance gives the impression that it may be abandoned- something squatters tend to look for if they hope to find somewhere they can stay long enough to claim adverse possession.
It also looks good for you if you can prove you have not abandoned your property- squatters will have more difficulty claiming the land.
Ask a Neighbor to Keep an Eye Out for Movement
If you can't manage regular visits or are particularly concerned about your property, speak to the neighbor or someone nearby who you trust and ask them to check up from time to time. It may be easier for them to spot suspicious activity since they pass more often than you do.
Let them know if you plan to visit to avoid causing unnecessary alarm.
Rent it Out
Squatters are significantly less likely to attempt to settle in a property that is already occupied- so it makes sense to rent out your space (if possible) to make it a less appealing target.
It is worth considering using a reliable professional property management company to find a good tenant match if you don't have time to do it by yourself. Be sure to read up on rental laws and security deposit procedures if you plan to lease.
The Bottom Line
Evicting squatters in Connecticut takes time- especially if the case goes to trial. It is better to take the necessary steps to avoid them ever settling- but it helps to know what to do in the event it happens to you.
Squatters' rights allow adverse possession claims- but only after a long time. As long as you stay vigilant, care for the property, and act quickly- you shouldn't have much trouble winning your case.
To learn more about legal and practical business moves and processes for Connecticut landlords and owners, download all the forms you need to manage your real estate activities.
Can landlords dispute adverse possession claims?
There is always an opportunity to appeal the decision on an adverse possession claim, but it is unlikely to change the outcome unless you can provide new evidence. If the claim is approved, to begin with, it suggests there is substantial proof that they had the legal right.
Are there any types of property that are exempt from adverse possession?
Yes- government-owned properties and land owned by non-profit organizations cannot be claimed under adverse possession. Conservation lands are also exempt. Squatters who attempt to settle on any of these types of land will be removed quickly, as their presence is considered criminal trespassing.
When does squatting become trespassing in Connecticut?
Squatting is not a criminal offense- as long as it is not on prohibited land. It only becomes one when the person is deemed to be trespassing- which only happens after the owner has officially declared they are not welcome and have notified the squatter in writing.
Once the eviction process is complete, and the squatter has been given every opportunity to appeal or dispute their removal- if a judge rules they can't stay and they still remain- they are then trespassing- which is a criminal offense.
Does Connecticut law require color of title in an adverse possession claim?
The rules surrounding color of title in Connecticut are slightly different from many states. A squatter does not need one to make an adverse possession claim- but they can apply for one after they win their case.
Winning an adverse possession claim and subsequently securing color of title effectively makes the squatter the rightful owner. If they win their adverse possession claim but do not pursue color of title, they only gain ownership of the piece of land they actually occupy.
If the squatter claims a building, for example, they would not also have the right to use the surrounding land. In a case where a squatter claims adverse possession on an area of land they have settled on, they are restricted solely to that area without claim of title.
Who can remove squatters in Connecticut?
Only the local sheriff can legally remove squatters in Connecticut- and only after an official eviction has been granted. Other local law enforcement cannot intervene- and landlords are prohibited from taking any actions that could be seen as attempts to forcibly remove the occupants.